What a perfect day in Rome! We woke up and met Mike Zimmerman on our way to the Vatican. There’s something really lovely about being awake and walking around before a city begins the daily hustle and bustle. You can absorb the scenery with ease rather than fighting the crowds. We continued on our way toward the Vatican, catching up with our good friend. The Papal Audience didn’t start until 10ish, but people arrive much earlier to get good seats. We were there an hour and a half early and we were in the back section. We enjoyed relaxing in the sun, and taking in the sights and sounds of St Peter’s square. It didn’t feel all that long until we heard the crowds chanting “Papa! Papa! Papa!” as our beloved Pope drove around in the Popemobile and greeted pilgrims from across the world. We may have been sitting in the back section, but we did get to see Papa Francis up close when he drove around all the perimeters of the various sections. It was wonderful to see Pope Francis. It’s so funny to see someone on TV and in pictures all the time, and then actually see them in person. He, of course, looks the same!
As you may know, each Wednesday the Pope gives a talk. They can choose whatever they talk about. If you’ve heard of the text The Theology of the Body, in which Saint John Paul II explored and explained the meaning of the human body and the gift of sexuality, those came out of St. JP II’s Wednesday talks! So they audiences are not just a “hey everyone from around the world, what’s up!” kind of thing, but really a moment in which the Pope instructs, enlightens and deepens our understanding of what we believe and profess. Pope Francis had been doing a series on the Gifts of the Holy Spirit. During the audience that we attended, Pope Francis spoke on Piety. You can read the full text of what he said here.
After the audience, we grabbed some pizza and walked back toward our apartment. Getting in the general area was easy enough, but then we had some trouble finding our place…it probably took us 20-30 minutes once we got nearby the apartment to actually find it! But Josh got us back safe and sound. Let me tell you…I’m so glad that I got an iphone before we left and that one of the apps in came with is a compass. We used that iphone compass every. Single. Day. It was really a lifesaver/time saver.
We partook in an afternoon nap and then met up with Mike again. He gave us a tour of St Peter’s Basilica. What a rich history we have! I’m still absorbing all that I saw and learned through the art. It is all so intentional, symbolic and catechetical. I think that often people see Catholic churches and think “Wow, what a waste of money…shouldn’t that money be used on the poor?” (I actually saw a scribbled message on the bathroom stall door in the Vatican museums that essentially communicated this very question.) Certainly, there have been people in history to misuse money within the Church and I am not here to defend their mismanagement. However, in many ways money that was spent on art was spent on the poor, because it was an effective means of sharing the Gospel. We take for granted the fact that we’ve always had the Scriptures at our fingertips (and now online, kindle, iphones, etc) but it took centuries to assemble the Bible. Jesus didn’t just leave us boxes of copies to hand out to share the Good News with others; the Gospels needed to be written down. What we read about the Apostles in Acts actually had to happen before someone could write it. Paul had to have his conversion, begin his evangelization and write his letters to the early churches. Then the early Church had to go through and prayerfully discern which of the texts were legitimate and which were not (there were false texts and heresies circulating as well). We can see the first official canon of the Bible come onto the scene in about the year 382 AD. But even after the Bible was assembled, many people weren’t literate and the art – stained glass, mosaics, statues, paintings, tapestries, the physical church itself – served as a visual way of preaching the Gospel. Before the printing press, if a person could read, it would cost them to about a year’s wages to obtain a copy of the Bible. (This is why the Sacred Scriptures were chained to the pulpit – not to keep the Word of God from people but to ensure that all people who came there would be able to hear the Word preached!) Many early Christians learned the stories and key figures of the Salvation History through the Sacred Tradition of the Church, including Sacred Art. For “Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture, then, are closely bound together and communicate one with the other. For both of them, flowing out from the same divine well-spring, come together in some fashion to form one thing and move towards the same goal. Each of them makes present and fruitful in the Church the mystery of Christ, who promised to remain with his own ‘always, to the close of the age’” (CCC 80). Thank God for artists! Thanks be to the Holy Spirit, Who inspired them. Thank God for blessing us with such skilled craftsmen to share the Gospel with us down through the ages. Even if the majority of people in our particular corner of the world are literate today, art still plays a vital role. It enhances our understanding of who we are as Christians and to help us remember our story, our identity.
After enjoying, learning and reflecting in St Peter’s, Mike took us over to the Pacific North American College – his seminary in Rome. We prayed Evening Prayer with the seminarians. I even got to see a deacon that served for a summer at our parish in North Dakota, so that was neat. We, of course, got the classic “we visited Mike at the seminary” photo from the top of his seminary (best view in Rome). Sarah Melendez votes that Mike should start handing out T shirts to his visitors that say – “I visited Mike in Rome and all I got was this lousy T-shirt,” and I second that motion (even though Mike gave us way more than a T-shirt! Great company, amazing tours and so much more!)
We grabbed dinner up near the sem. The area is called Trastevere. It’s a fun, lively area with lots of street performers and such. Our dinner was delicious. For our appetizer we had melon wrapped in prosciutto. For my main course I had Bucatini al’ Amatriciana. The noodle looks like spaghetti but it’s hollow through the middle. The sauce is tomato based with beef jowl. Very tasty. I wrote almost this entire paragraph in simple sentences. I am clearly feeling very creative.
We made our way make toward the Piazza Novona and stopped at Frigidarium for gelato. Frigidarium became our jaaaaam. Best gelato, generous portions and best price. I personally loved the coconut and the nutella flavor. For no additional cost, they would also dip it in chocolate for you. We sat in the Piazza and ate our gelato with Mike and then prayed together before parting for the night.
I felt like we did a lot without over doing it – a huge blessing. I was definitely tired – even as I journaled I could feel that my arms were weary! However tired, we felt peace about having a flexible schedule that allowed us to plan but to remain open to where the Spirit wanted to take us. On a spiritual level, I didn’t feel any overwhelming sensations or movements of the Spirit from the first day. Great awe for our history and great appreciation for the gift of faith, certainly…but not a mountain top kind of experience.